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At some point, we’ve all pondered our dream jobs. Whether it’s becoming a pro athlete, a pilot, an astronaut or a music teacher, we can all picture a job that squares perfectly with our deepest motivations. For some people, the stars align, and a golden opportunity falls in their laps.
Unfortunately, not every dream job comes with a golden salary.
What if that awesome job offer you just got doesn’t come close to matching the salary at your current ho-hum job? What if accepting your dream job requires you to start at the bottom of the totem pole? Should you take a lower-paying job if it’s one you're sure you'll love?
Here are a few questions to ask yourself to help determine whether taking that dream gig with a smaller paycheck is the right move personally and professionally.
Is This Really Your Dream Job?
Look at every aspect of the new position that you believe will make you happy. If the job checks important boxes outside of the actual paycheck, it might be worth considering.
"While your dream job might not pay as much, it might offer more in the way of work-life balance or corporate culture," says career coach Jessica Sweet. "Create a dream job profile and make sure that if a job pays less money, it pays more in other things that are important to you."
Are You Just Fleeing Your Old Job?
While following your passion can be a worthwhile pursuit, you want to make sure your motivations for chasing a dream are pure. Executive coach Lynn Carnes suggests evaluating why you're tempted to make a big career move — especially if you're stuck in a job you dislike. Disdain for your current position, and the stress it’s causing, can make every job opening look like a “dream” job.
"When you're making good money, yet hate your job, almost anything looks better than what you have," she says. "It can create a skewed picture of what you really want."
Be sure you're really choosing this new gig because it fulfills a deeper purpose, and it’s not just an opportunity to run away from dissatisfaction and general unhappiness.
“Purpose is lived through how we interact with the world, not what we do,” she explains. “If you are internally unhappy, you will bring your worldview to the new role and likely be as unhappy in it as you are in the higher paying job.”
How Financially Stable Are You?
Next, it's time to consider affordability, which can get over overlooked amid the excitement of a passion project.
"Start examining your life, your tastes, your expenses and learn which trade-offs you can handle and which you cannot," Carnes advises. "For example, if you expect to downsize your living space, test it first. If you are going to love your job and hate your living space, you haven’t gained anything."
Bottom line: If you can’t afford taking a pay cut yet, don’t do it.
Sweet suggests working with a financial professional who can help you understand the future implications of taking a pay cut. Even though you might be earning less, you can at least create a plan to compensate for it and stay on track to hit your long-term goals.
Does It Fit With Your Career Timeline?
Changing the course of your career isn’t a step in the wrong direction but it could mean taking a position with less seniority than your current role. In fact, there’s a good chance that if this is a new career path, you might be closer to an entry-level position.
"That said, you do gain other experience that is hard to account for," Sweet says. "You might pick up a programming or speaking language, create contacts you never would have had or gain some other skill or experience that helps you along the way."
So, keep the big picture in mind. How will the new skills you learn at your passion profession fit into your long-term growth trajectory?
Are You Prepared for Any Negative Feedback?
To put it bluntly, following your passion can cause people to freak out a little bit. Your move could stir up jealousy among your friends who are stuck in jobs they dislike. Your family members might grow worried about your bold decision. After all, chasing your passion can be risky and your loved ones just want the best for you.
"If you care deeply about what other people think, it might be challenging to do something different than what they would do," Carnes says. "Often, friends and family can get worried if it looks like you are operating below your full potential, especially if they value money as an indicator of personal worth, or if they are parents in fear of boomerang kids."
She advises being prepared for the potential backlash, pressure and, perhaps, unsolicited advice.
"If you are someone who looks externally for approval, this can be doubly difficult," Carnes adds. "Get very grounded in your decision so that you can talk about it without getting defensive or succumbing to other people’s priorities."
Making a career switch isn’t easy but contemplating your motivations and long-term financial goals can help make the decision much easier. And with the right preparation, you just might be ready to take the leap.